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HEALTH CARE

Health care students start free foot clinic for the homeless

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Health care students in Billings have partnered with the Community Crisis Center to offer free foot care clinics to the homeless.

Physician’s assistant and occupational therapy students from Rocky Mountain College, nursing students with Montana State University and local medical students will give foot baths, exams and nail trimmings to those in need with preceptor supervision every Monday evening from 7 to 9 p.m.

Called the Best Foot Forward (BFF) clinic, the student-run program operates under Gratitude in Action’s nonprofit status, ensuring a funding model and opens up the clinic to donations from the community, said third-year medical student Maclean Turner.

Turner helped start the free clinic after hearing that the Billings homeless population suffered from more adverse foot conditions than those living in Bozeman, where a BFF clinic has operated for about five years out of the HDRC warming center.

Many suffer from foot conditions that can be resolved with regular care and properly fitting shoes and socks, but without access to things like clean water, soap or nail clippers, conditions can become severe quickly.

Students have volunteered for the service since early April, and so far have seen multiple people with amputated toes and many with open sores on their feet.

Turner recently watched one man pull a pair of vomit-covered sneakers from a dumpster and knew that offering free, clean socks and shoes to those in need was critical.

After every service, clients will receive a clean pair of socks and can request a new pair of shoes if needed. During the first two clinics, BFF volunteers gave out 65 pairs of socks. At the most recent clinic when shoes were available, volunteers gave out eight new pairs. 

For those staying the night at the Crisis Center, used socks can be laundered.

Foot care

Shoes, socks and medical supplies are on hand for the foot care clinic for the homeless.

Compression socks are also available for those with diabetes or leg edema.

The goal is to offer a unique service to the community, act as a referral site to other services in the community and provide hands on, interdisciplinary learning and volunteer opportunities for up-and-coming health care workers.

The hands-on opportunities and the chance to help others is often the reason students chose health care fields, Turner said.

“Sometimes we have to give that up with classes,” Turner said. “This gives students a chance to learn and give back.”

So far, eight students have committed to volunteering. At each clinic, held on Monday nights, students work in teams, always paired with students from other disciplines.

Students first gauge the interest of those checking into the Crisis Center. Turner said shame and stigma surrounding foot care and homelessness comes up regularly.

“A lot of people say ‘well you don’t want to see my feet,’” Turner said.

But once they agree to the service, clients fill out a questionnaire that will be used to track the health of Billings’ homeless population.

Students spend about 30 minutes with each client, serving about eight people per clinic.

Foot care

Mac Turner, left, leads a briefing for medical students volunteering in a foot care clinic for the homeless at the Community Crisis Center.

The clinic will likely operate through the summer, depending on demand. Right now, students are focused on connecting clients with other services in town following the routine foot care.

The fall and winter months are the more dire seasons for foot care and preventative health due to the wet and cold conditions.

Turner plans to grow the student volunteers, feeling confident that more will join the team. He hopes to eventually expand the service to geriatric patients. 

“We haven’t scratched the surface for volunteer base yet,” Turner said. “So far all the feedback has been positive.”

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